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Divesting for Jesus By: Steven Bernstein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, October 10, 2005

In the war against the existence of Israel, the economic boycott has a long history. Now three Protestant churches have passed resolutions in support of the Palestinian intifada against Israel, pledging to divest their current holdings in some companies that do business with Israel and to call for the dismantling of the Security Fence between Israel and the West Bank.

The five million member Evangelical Lutheran Church of America(ELCA), at their 9th Biennial Churchwide Assembly last year in Orlando, Florida, voted 668-to-269 to implement their “Peace Not Walls: Stand for Justice in the Holy Land” campaign. This was part of the “ELCA Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine,” approved by the ELCA Church Council this past April. The “Peace not Walls” crusade calls for Israel to stop construction on the Security Fence between Israel and the West Bank. This basis for this campaign is the demonstrably false assertion that the Fence is causing undue hardship for Palestinian Christians.

The Security Fence was designed for “minimum disruption to the daily life of the populations residing on both sides,” and it contains “narrow agricultural passageways,” which enable farmers to continue tending their crops. There are 41 such passageways and nine pedestrian passageways in the first 140 kilometer section of the fence alone.


However, the Israeli Supreme Court has done an excellent job of balancing Israel's security interests with the day-to-day concerns of West Bank Palestinians. In a recent unanimous decision, the Court ordered the Israeli government to re-route a 13 kilometer fence segment near Alfei Menashe, home to 5500 Israeli settlers. The Court's decision stated: “the state [of Israel] must, within a reasonable period, reconsider various fence route alternatives at Alfei Menashe while examining security options which cause less injury to the lives of the residents of the villages.” Michael Sfard, an Israeli lawyer representing the Palestinians, was pleased with the ruling, stating, “This ruling saves five villages from certain extinction.” What court in an Arab country would show similar consideration to Jewish interests?


However, the Court rejected a UN World Court ruling that the Security Fence is prima facie illegal, because it did not consider Israel's security requirements. Also, Diana Buttu, legal advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called the Israeli Court decision “very misguided.” She also stated, “It is the same court that continues to legitimize the continuation of Israeli military occupation.” Israeli security needs require that the fence occupy a small part of the West Bank. In fact, the fence is presently east of about 8 percent of the West Bank, a far cry from the 43.5 percent the Palestinians claim. Why is a decision favoring Palestinians “very misguided”? Perhaps because the welfare of ordinary Palestinians is not on the agenda of Palestinian leaders. The presence of the fence has greatly reduced the number of suicide bombers entering Israel, so why should Israel stop construction? By calling for a halt to construction, the ELCA implies that Israel has no right to defend itself.


The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCUSA) – which represents 2.4 million Presbyterians in the United States. – at their June 2004 annual meeting, in Richmond, VA, authorized church administrators to divest a good part of their nearly $8 billion in holdings of certain companies that do business with Israel. The Presbyterian Assembly voted 431-to-62 “to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance with the General Assembly policy on social investing.”


Step number 4 of the 7-step Presbyterian divestment resolution states: “The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza must end; it has proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict...the rights of refugees to return to their homeland....horrific acts of violence, whether carried out by Palestinian ‘suicide bombers’ or by the Israeli military, are abhorrent and inexcusable...and are a dead-end alternative to a negotiated settlement of the conflict.”


Jewish reaction to divestment has been strongly negative. In February 2005, the

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) invited Jay Rock, PCUSA's interfaith coordinator, to explain their position on divestment to ADL’s National Executive Committee. Rock stated that PCUSA’s Assembly had previously “approved numerous resolutions repeatedly affirming Israel's right to exist in safety within secure borders and has called on Arab nations to cease any conduct that might support terrorism.”


Jewish leaders were not persuaded. Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL's interfaith affairs director, stated: “When we hear ‘phased selective divestiture,’ the Jewish community hears ‘economic boycott.’ They [PCUSA] should have been able to understand how the Jewish community was going to react.” Granatoor also blamed PCUSA for reviving divestment at American colleges and universities. Abraham Foxman, ADL's Director, was similarly unimpressed.


Yet this strong negative reaction, and the fact that a substantial number of Presbyterians disapprove of divestment, have not changed PCUSA’s position. Their Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) is examining the church's portfolio to decide which companies to target (for divestment), and their report will be submitted to the PCUSA's 217th General Assembly in 2006. MRTI has drafted a set of divestment guidelines to expedite the process. Rock defended these actions, stating they do not call for “removing money from any corporation simply because it does business with Israel...nor is it a policy of blanket divestment.” He further stated that PCUSA is calling for divestment from some corporations, “because they are involved in activities that we think stand in the way of a peaceful resolution in this situation.”


However, the point that PCUSA’s divestment resolution is not “blanket divestment” is irrelevant. First, the decision as to which activities “stand in the way of a peaceful resolution” to the conflict is not PCUSA’s to make, but presently that of Israel's government. Second, PCUSA is not calling for divestment from companies that do business with the totalitarian regimes of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or China, countries with far worse human rights records than Israel's. Third, divestment will almost certainly not have any negative effect on the value of the targeted company stock, because these stocks are in high demand. When PCUSA sells those stocks, their value will likely rise even higher.


So what is the purpose of the divestment campaign? Its effect is to support the Arab terror war against Israel. It is yet another opportunity to demonize Israel, and falsely portray Palestinians as Israel’s victims. The language of the divestment resolution is revealing, using phrases such as “rights of refugees to return to their homeland,” code for a Palestinian state, instead of Israel. PCUSA is trying to make us believe that, but for Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians would be living normal lives, instead of making terrorist attacks on Israel.


Not to be outdone, the ultra-leftist United Church of Christ (UCC) has recently drafted a divestment resolution, which states in part: “Whereas the United Church of Christ has repeatedly affirmed that the State of Israel has a right to exist, and that the Palestinian people also have a right to their own state, whether it is through a one-state or a two-state solution....” The UCC seems to be admitting Israel's right to exist, and calls for a

Palestinian state. However, the UCC resolution is a breathtaking example of the Big Lie. What is a one-state solution? A Palestinian state instead of Israel. In the very same sentence that affirms Israel's right to exist, UCC admits that they would be satisfied with a Palestinian state replacing Israel.


The next two paragraphs state: “Whereas the United Church of Christ has called for an end to anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world, and has passed a resolution to this effect as recently as GS (General Synod) 2002, and Whereas both the ancient Jewish people and the Palestinian people are known as Semitic and therefore charges of anti-Semitism are completely unfounded when people call for a just and equitable peace settlement in Israel/Palestine; that this resolution is based on both a pro-Israeli and a pro-Palestinian peoples perspective; that it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the Palestinian policy of Israeli governments.”


The intent is to insulate themselves against charges of “anti-Semitism” by stating they favor the right of Palestinian Semites – to kill Jews.


The phrase “that this resolution is based on a pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian peoples perspective” seems to imply the Israeli people are not in agreement with Israel's government on the Palestinian issue – which is simply not true. However, it is a safe bet that some non-militant Palestinians are not in agreement with Palestinian policy towards Israel. While it may not be anti-Semitic “to criticize the Palestinian policy of Israeli governments,” the UCC’s brazen affirmations that they would be satisfied with a Palestinian state instead of Israel ignores not only the historical reality of 20th century European and Arab anti-Semitism, but also present-day Arab treatment of Jews.


Charges of anti-Semitism are not standing in the way of peace in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Rather, the failure of Palestinian leadership to admit Israel's right to exist and to control militant groups are keeping the peace process from going forward. However, if PCUSA’s motive for divestment, and ELCA's motive for their “Peace not Walls” campaign “is to provide politicians and statesmen the impetus they need to forge a lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians,” then it would be reasonable to think that PCUSA, ELCA, and UCC would be enthusiastic over Israel’s recently completed withdrawal from Gaza, completed weeks ahead of time. Yet they have responded with a strange silence. As of this writing, they have yet to make a single positive statement about the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. In addition, the violent reaction of Gaza's Palestinian militant groups to the withdrawal – firing rockets at Sderot, smuggling weapons into Gaza from Egypt, etc. – has necessitated strong Israeli responses. The Security Fence, in part, helped make this withdrawal possible – and helped protect Israel from the Palestinians’ (predictable) reaction to Jewish decency: more anti-Israeli violence. This should underscore the need for a security Fence around Gaza.


The lack of reaction towards Israel's Gaza withdrawal on the part of PCUSA, ELCA, and UCC betrays their inability to recognize Israel's suffering, their inability to admit the many Israeli efforts to achieve a true and lasting peace, their inability to admit Israel's achieving peace with Egypt and Jordan, and their inability to admit that Israel has a right to exist.

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